Ever heard of snake oil? If you are well-versed in digital marketing and Search Engine Optimization (SEO), chances are you have.
Snake oil originates from old school practices of selling a one-size-fits-all elixir that cures any-and-all diseases. As it relates to business, snake oil describes sneaky salesmen who knowingly sell fraudulent products and services to unsuspecting customers.
It’s 2016, and most businesses and individuals have largely smartened up to these slippery characters; however, there are still plenty of snake oil salesmen in the SEO industry who are ripping off businesses and giving SEO firms a bad name.
As someone who is passionate about SEO and makes a living consulting with businesses on SEO strategy, I get incredibly frustrated when disingenuous people take advantage of customers to make a quick buck. Some companies promise their client the world when they actually intend to cripple the business. For example, I have seen some form of this sad story numerous times: Local business pays $1,500-$2,500 per month for “SEO services”0. Over the course of the relationship, however, the company doesn’t receive even one single progress report. Moreover, these awful companies do not provide any performance evaluation, or a basic list of services rendered. The client gets a big fat invoice. They also received very little communication from their “SEO firm”, and no results.
Sounds miserable right? Granted, the company should have done more research to ensure they were working a reputable SEO firm. We put this solely on said “SEO firm”. People outsource their SEO because they either don’t have the time to invest in SEO strategy, or they are not knowledgeable on the topic and prefer to have an expert take care of it.
I could go on and on about my disdain for the scammers. However, complaining without taking action is just a waste. So, let’s jump into what you need to know to ensure you aren’t buying snake oil and potentially harming your business.
I DECLARE WAR ON SNAKE OIL SEOS!
*NOTE: These tips are intended for use when both assessing your current SEO firm, and/or when evaluating a potential SEO firm.
#1 Ensure accurate, consistent reporting.
Before committing to work with an SEO firm, ask to see an example of their reporting. How often can you expect that report? What can you do if you are unsatisfied with the amount of work they’ve done on a given report? These are important things to know, as you want to make sure you are getting progress reports that show consistent effort and improvements. Most snake oil SEO’s won’t have reports for you, and if they do, they are typically vague or messy. Avoid them.
#2 Beware of guarantees.
“I guarantee a #1 ranking on Google! I guarantee to rank your business on the first page in one month! I guarantee you x amount of new clients each month!” Yikes. Well I guarantee that a firm that makes guarantees is a dud. Real SEOs understand that SEO is part art, part science. The only guarantee we can make is that we will put forth our best effort, be transparent throughout the process, and prove that we have the applicable knowledge and experience to craft successful campaigns. We can’t promise any stone-cold facts and figures because search engine algorithms aren’t predictable. Be sure to avoid firms that make guarantees about the results they can offer.
#3 Focus on quality over quantity.
If their strategy is “MORE keywords, MORE links. More, more, more!!!”: run away, and run away fast. A firm with this strategy either a) knows nothing about how SEO works, or b) is using black-hat techniques, which will get your site punished by the search engine, making it hard to ever recover. A real SEO understands that quality links, quality content, and quality keywords is what helps you rise organically and maintain your positioning in the long term.
#4 Demand consistent checkpoints.
Demand consistent bi-weekly or monthly meetings to discuss what work has been done, how the strategy has been adapted, and to ask any questions you may have. This ensures that they are actually doing the work and that they have to prepare good, solid information to relay to you on a consistent basis. Because of the constant communication, most frauds will be easy to spot early on.
#5 Be sure you can understand their language and explanations.
When explaining their work, many firms use complicated language that only digital marketers would understand. They are banking on you not having an understanding of the nuances of SEO, web design, etc. A real firm wouldn’t expect you to know these things; that’s the reason you hired us! If your SEO can’t break their explanations down to non-technical terms for you, then that is a major red flag.
#6 Make sure they create content for your audience first, search bots second.
Good SEO firms know that SEO doesn’t just work in a vacuum; there are components of website design, copywriting, functionality, social media, etc., that all need to work in harmony to help maximize SEO efforts. Expanding on what we discussed above at #3, you want to make sure your SEO is creating solid, relevant, fresh content for your pages. Every third word shouldn’t be an out-of-place keyword (keyword stuffing).The search engines’ ultimate goal is to connect searchers to the information they are looking for, and search engines want to avoid connecting users with unhelpful websites. Avoid firms who stuff keywords and cater to the search engine bots. Your SEO should create content that is relevant to your audience and meshes seamlessly with your firm’s goals and objectives.
#7 Find out how they stay up-to-date with search engine news and updates.
I’ve heard many experiences where snake oil firms tell a client “don’t worry about search engine updates, they don’t affect us.” I can’t, for the life of me, figure out how that makes any sense! If your SEO doesn’t have a way to stay current with what’s happening in the industry, how are they supposed to best benefit your business? I require my team to read no less than eight trusted SEO blogs on a daily basis. We follow the actual search engines on social media, subscribe to their blogs, consistently check their websites and news pertaining to them. It is of the utmost importance that SEOs stay up on current events and updates in our industry, because SEO is a constant, ever-changing art. If your firm shrugs it off, it’s time to find a new one.
#8 Invest the appropriate dollars; if their pricing seems too good to be true, it is.
This one seems counter-intuitive, right? When searching for vendors, businesses typically want the best value for the money.
SEO provides you a great return-on-investment in the long-run, and provides what I believe is the best value when it comes to digital marketing. That said, you need to find the sweet spot when it comes to pricing. Let’s do some math: one-man shops and freelancers typically charge anywhere from $50-$100 per hour, small firms anywhere from $80-$200 per hour, and large firms anywhere from $100-$500 per hour. Most firms charge monthly fees in lieu of hourly rates. Depending on the size of your firm, amount of work required on your website, and your budget, you should be paying between $1,000 and $10,000 per month on SEO services. If someone is offering you a monthly fee of $500, how much time are they going to truly invest in your business? Even for the most inexpensive of freelancers, that breaks down to around 10 hours per month.
When it comes to SEO, it pays to understand that SEO is an investment, a marathon and not a sprint. Much like the stock market, you are investing now to see large, consistent returns in the long-run, so be sure to look at it in this light. If a firm’s pricing is dirt-cheap and they are promising almost immediate returns, that is a definite red flag.
#9 Make sure you see results (after an appropriate amount of time and effort, of course)
Lastly, and obviously most important: you are investing in SEO because you want RESULTS. You want more website traffic, increased targeted leads, boosted conversion rates, and ultimately, more clients.
As stated above, SEO is a marathon, not a sprint.
If you are in a competitive field with ultra-competitive keywords, it can take a year or so to truly reap the rewards of effective SEO services. For very non-competitive keywords and industries, it’s possible to see results in a month or two. Either way, you should gauge from your SEO how much time they anticipate it will take before you see rises in rankings and the results you are looking for. If they say “within the next 30 days”, unless you run a snail-racing business or provide cosmetic gutter services (that-is, non-competitive industries), then that’s unrealistic.
On the flipside, even in the most competitive industries with ultra-competitive keywords, if they say 2-3 years, then they are probably just trying to lock you in as a client. Work with a GOOD SEO firm and allow them to be realistic with you; constant communication and transparency is the best way to ensure you have a great SEO team and can expect great results.
Hopefully, this guide has been of help to you. My lasting message to you is this: SEO is an amazing strategy to employ in your marketing efforts. It provides a great return-on-investment, saving more time and effort than other, more labor-intensive and time-consuming marketing. Just by committing to SEO, your website will become cleaner and faster with dynamite content that engages your audience.
SEO requires discipline and consistency, but when businesses do it right, it can help take your business to heights you couldn’t imagine. Be sure to avoid all the snake oil firms, and you will be well on your way to greater web presence and a more profitable business. Visit us at www.LexcoDigital.com to get help with SEO and other digital marketing strategies.